I was born in 1978, close enough to 1980 to claim to be a millennial if I choose to, but I choose not to. There is more than an age gap between the life experiences, philosophies, and priorities of Generation X, and those of the people that sandwich it. We are different. Technology can’t take away what forged us, and what we survived.
We were alone
As children growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, we know what equality means. It means that both Mom and Dad go to work each morning, and are still at work in the afternoon when we come home. We are pathetically called “Latchkey kids”, because we have to let ourselves in when we get home after school. No parental supervision means we watch too much TV, eat too much junk food, and invite friends over to do things we shouldn’t do.
This was before widespread access to the Internet, and thankfully before the Internet of Things. Our refrigerators didn’t tell Amazon.com we were out of chocolate ice-cream. We knew we were not being watched, as there were no web cameras back then.
Being alone meant that we had to take responsibility about managing our time: homework, piano practice, reading, chores. Eventually, our parents came home, but they were busy and tired, and didn’t have that much time to help with homework. There were no webpages for them to check to see what our homework was for the week, and we didn’t have to worry about the teacher having sent them an email. Our successes and failures were our own.
We know how to lose
Generation X is not the generation that was told we were special. We were either good at something or we weren’t. If we won a trophy, it meant something. It meant we deserved it! It meant that we were somehow better than the other children who had made the same attempt. It was easy to know what our real talents were, because people would tell us if we were bad at something: coaches, teachers, parents, even our friends. We had equal opportunities to try out for something, but we didn’t get “everybody wins” trophies. That’s what made victories real.
Also, we spent a lot of time playing on the streets, unsupervised. If we weren’t cool, the neighborhood kids told us so. We couldn’t hide behind chat rooms or rehearsed selfies until we looked good. If we wanted to win, we had to evolve.
Generation X is the group of men and women who chose to be good parents. We were handed rule books when we came into the workforce, and no one told us that it was ok to break or try to change the rules. We were young, and we had to do as we were told, until we were old enough to boss someone else around. We chose to celebrate instead. Boldly, we started celebrating the rebels, the rule breakers, the game-changers.
Millennials: Generation X is your greatest ally. We’ve always taken care of you, like good older brothers and sisters. We took the beatings of the corporate world. We did as we were told until we realized that if we didn’t start to change the status quo, you would suffer the same fate.
We took risks by
- negotiating lower salaries in exchange for schedule flexibility,
- working twice as hard, just so that we would be allowed to work from home, or
- outright starting our own businesses
If you don’t appreciate us now, you will soon, when you start having children. Deep down, the real reason we did this is because we didn’t want our own kids to be alone. The generation that is growing up listening to Mommy and Daddy’s conference calls at home is experiencing work-life balance. We made that happen for them, for our Digital Natives. Every moment we get to spend with them is the best possible reward.
Photo credit: Andre Hawk / Olabi Makerspace / Silvia Spiva